There are plenty of articles online about choosing a touring bike, but if you’re a beginner it is just as important to make careful considerations when choosing a bike tour that’s right for you.
Every bike tour is different and there are questions you should ask yourself before committing to one. Now that I’ve been on a few bike tours I can more easily tell which tours I’d like and which I’d dislike.
For example, I much prefer warm weather touring, so I’d sooner buy a plane ticket to begin a winter tour in the south than suffer my way through a snowy New England tour.
However, weather isn’t the only thing you’ll need to weather. Here are a few other key considerations you’ll need to make.
The Variables You’ll Need to Consider When Choosing a Bike Tour
Many of the touring cyclists I know started because a friend or family member introduced them to it.
The same is true for me– a good friend invited me along on my first tour with his family and I was hooked from then on. Because I had an experienced friend to show me the ropes, I really didn’t need to make the decision about which first tour I’d choose.
If you’re paving the way on your own or you and a group of friends are looking for a good first route, these are the things you should be thinking about.
Obviously it’s essential that you tour within your means. Different tours will cost different amounts of money for different reasons. It’s a good idea to determine how much you want to spend before you pick a tour.
Luckily, you can tour for very little money if you plan it right. In fact, you could argue that it’s possible to tour for free.
I believe that having a $0 budget is dangerous when you’re far from home so I highly recommend having a few hundred dollars saved up for emergency expenses should you find yourself in a sticky situation.
The following factors will determine how expensive your tour will be.
- Local vs. Abroad – If you’re starting your tour from your hometown, you won’t need to spend any money on travel expenses. If you’re planning on starting your tour abroad—whether in a different state or a different continent—there will be expenses right off the bat to get you where you need to go. Bikers looking to tour for free will often bike to their starting point to save that money on travel.
- Lodging vs. Camping – Hotels will obviously cost more than campsites in most scenarios. Camping tours can be a great way to stay in touch with nature while you travel and it often gives you a chance to really experience the area in which you’re staying. On the other hand, hotels will give you a chance to fully recharge after each ride. Lodging isn’t necessarily more expensive though. If you have acquaintances all over the country you might be able to shack up with them for one night each along your route. Also, hostels abroad are often even more inexpensive than campsites in the US.
- Guided vs. Self-Guided or Self-Supported – To determine whether a self-guided or a guided tour would be cheaper, you’ll need to do your research. On many guided tours, meals are provided at every checkpoint and campsites are paid for. However, there is an overhead fee for the entire tour that includes everything you’d otherwise have to pay for, plus a guide to keep you on track. Self-guided tours aren’t necessarily all that different. In many states you can find a tour package that still includes meals and lodging without a hired guide. Self-supported tours on the other hand are ones in which you will need to do all the planning for yourself.
This is where the research comes in. If you can make a detailed plan that includes lodging and food, you can then compare that price to a self-guided tour and determine which is better for your budget.
Like I mentioned, climate is something you’ll need to consider early on when planning your tour.
If you’re trying to tour close to home, the climate might be dependent on the time of year. To avoid the snow, I wouldn’t plan a tour between the months of November and March.
If you’re willing to travel on your tour you might as well choose a location based on climate. A tour in Canada would be much different than a tour in Texas. I’d recommend picking the climate you want first and then planning from there. It’s simply a matter of personal preference.
Another matter of personal preference will be the terrain you choose. You can tour on the road, on dirt paths or grass, or both if you choose a mixed-terrain bike tour.
In addition to the actual surface you’ll be riding on, you should also consider whether the route is mostly flat or hilly. Obviously a hilly route will be more challenging.
Don’t assume you know the topography of a place without researching it. A friend of mine recently chose to tour near Atlanta because he thought it would be flat and easy but the hilly landscape made it the most challenging tour he’s ever done.
If you’re not sure how the biking terrain will be, consider calling a bike touring company in the area to find out, even if you’re touring independently.
Length of Time and Distance
Usually the length of time and the distance of a tour go hand in hand. If you want to tour for an entire month, you’ll be able to go a long distance. If you’re not ready for such a hefty commitment, you might only go for a few days.
Generally tours are measured by distance, so if you’re planning it yourself choose a distance you feel comfortable with. Then, based on the ability of the slowest person in your group, make an educated guess about how long it will take you.
These are the basic things you’ll need to consider when you’re choosing your first bike tour. Of course you should also think about the scenery you’d like to see and the amount of breaks you’d want to take on the tour, but those should be in your next set of considerations.
These basics will help you narrow down your options successfully.
Good luck planning your first tour!